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Shalom justice: Reflections on events in Hesston

2.28. 2016 Posted By: The Mennonite 5,826 Times read

Michele Hershberger is professor in the Bible and Ministry department at Hesston (Kan.) College. 

It’s been a crazy last couple of days. Hearing the gun shots in my kitchen that afternoon, I shook my head at whoever that silly hunter was out there. “Someone’s hunting too close to town,” I said to myself. Then…the text message that Hesston College was on lockdown, the sirens, the people running past my house. I was motionless, in disbelief.

The reality of what had happened hit home as the Hesston College community gathered for prayer later that Thursday night, but it wasn’t until a reporter from the Wichita Eagle approached me for an interview on Friday that the theological implications of what happened and how we must respond really hit home.

The only thing I knew to say to the reporter was something that I had heard so many times that, in this intense moment, I could remember and cling to, even if my emotions weren’t matching up with my words.

I told her about shalom justice.

Thanks to my parents, pastors and professors, I’ve heard about shalom justice all my life. Different from an American or Greek understanding of justice, shalom justice comes from a biblical perspective.

In the Bible, God gives people what they need, not necessarily what they deserve.

God rescued the people in Egypt even though many of them had forgotten God and started worshiping the Egyptian gods. But God rescued them because they needed it. In the parable of the prodigal son, the father showed shalom justice to his younger son after he had dishonored his father and before he had time to pay his dues. Jesus died on the cross for us–for me–surely giving me exactly what I needed, even though it was a love I don’t deserve.

Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48 says we are to do the same. God sends rain and sunshine to the good and the bad (shalom justice), and we are to be like our Father in heaven. The Father loves his enemies. We are to do so as well.

That’s what I said to the reporter. That’s why, I explained to her, we pray for Cedric Ford’s family as well as the families of the victims. And furthermore, living this way, giving people what they need, more than the bad things they may deserve, is the only true way we can “fight” evil.

It’s too late to help Ford, but there are other persons out there who are angry and lonely, and we have the choice, starting today, to choose love over fear.

What does it mean to start giving shalom justice to everyone we meet?

Here’s a beginning list. We refuse to stereotype the Other, whoever the Other might be to you. We reflect on who we hang out with, and if all those people look just like us, then we need to broaden our friendship circle. We look at the systemic realities that keep whole groups of people marginalized. We stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed.

We don’t have to volunteer everywhere, but we can volunteer somewhere. And while we are there, we check our hearts and ask Jesus to help us see the people we are with as he sees them. We ask Jesus to fill our hearts with love and humility, and with the realization that they have something sacred to share with us. He’ll answer that prayer.

And as we pray, we believe that God is still moving in this world. We listen for that voice to say to us, “Hey Michele, call so-and-so. They are discouraged right now and they need to hear from you.” Or, “Hey Michele, go and buy two bags of groceries for so-and-so,” or “Call someone now, they are thinking about suicide.”  I know that God works in this way. I know it.

We don’t have to rescue everyone. We do need to do what we can, with God’s help. We are called to listen to God’s voice and do just what we’re asked to do. Those small things—and sometimes big things—may save lives. Maybe even our own lives. We won’t ever know, this side of heaven, and that’s okay.

We give people what they need, not necessarily what they deserve.

And people get healed. The people who are discouraged and the people who are afraid and the people who are enslaved to their anger. In other words, people like me.

An excerpt from Michele’s Feb. 26 interview with The Wichita Eagle:

Anger is OK, says Michele Hershberger, Bible and ministry professor at Hesston College.

“What he did was wrong. But if we as a community can help each other forgive and respond in love to everyone, then in a tiny way we may be the hands and feet of Jesus.

“Somehow the Christians of Newton and Hesston did not have enough of a relationship with Cedric Ford that we were able to help him find an alternative to this tragedy. I’m not blaming anybody. But that’s how we want community to work.”

Some say, with the shooter’s death, justice has been served.

But Mennonites believe in shalom justice, concerned more with what people need, not necessarily what they deserve, Hershberger said.

“It’s too late for Cedric Ford, but how do we show shalom justice to his children and his family and to all of the families of the victims and to the Hesston cop who shot Ford?” she said.

In the coming weeks and months, the most important thing for the community is to not respond in fear, she said.

“I think the most difficult thing to do is to continue to walk outside and greet every person we see,” Hershberger said.


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11 Responses to “Shalom justice: Reflections on events in Hesston”

  1. M. South says:

    It is insightful to note that relationships which could alter bad decisions to surrender to evil need to be built with these persons before the tragic episodes happen. Yet the possibility for that given the trajectory of American society is ever more inhibited. Just look at how much of a greater role Facebook and its self-celebrity play in Cedric Ford’s life and millions of other lives than spiritual concerns.

    I guess an additional question has to be, if this had happened at Hesston itself, would the response have been to also surrender jurisdiction and policy to armed force?

    The wider society encourages many cultural attitudes that are very far from what Christians would believe appropriate, which lead to cycles of violence. Living in close proximity to, and being mixed with and conditioned by that dominating society alters the responses we might not only choose to take, but also which ones we are allowed to.

  2. […] also written beautiful piece responding in a Christ-like manner to the shooting.  You can find it here.  Michele is a mentor and friend of mine and I am thankful for the testimony she […]

  3. Gary says:

    I am wondering how members of Mennonite Churches in Hesston feel about their members using violence to stop violence as the chief of police from Alexanderwohl Mennonite, did in this case.

    • Debra Bender says:

      Gary, I asked that same question and practically had my head handed to me on a plate. I’m married to a retired Chicago police officer. There are ways to handle violence other than with escalating violence. My husband and every single one of his partners and friends figured it out, often simply asking, “Do you want to go to jail or do you want to go home?” And, yes, they handled some scary, violent situations you don’t even want to hear about.

    • White Cloud says:

      Gary, how do YOU feel about the police chief stopping the attack? With 17 people hit, and bullets continuing to fly, perhaps you have a different approach in mind.

  4. […] Friend Hannah Heinzekehr shared this post by Michele Hershberger, “Shalom justice: Reflections on events in Hesston.” […]

  5. Rosa Marie Yoder says:

    It is normal human nature to have one’s social circle to be comprised mostly of those who look like us. Forced integration has worked nowhere. This simplistic response is not helpful!

  6. Frank Lostaunau says:

    May they rest in peace.

  7. M. South says:

    I don’t think anyone ought to second guess by condemning those who decided to act in self defense, or by passing laws depriving others of the right to act in self defense.

    We do need to consider whether our cultural inclination is to use violence as a first choice in conflict is being stoked by societal needs and trends and the general fear level in a population that mass media through the sensational uses to build audience.

    Our entertainment is heavy with the propaganda of pornographic violence.

    Our institutions have mixed motives, since inculcating a belief that violence is useful once provocation reaches a certain level is utilitarian for making sure that proletarian recruits to an empire army have their moral restraint reduced to where they will readily fire upon people they don’t know in other lands.

    We don’t need as Christians to be following the world’s example. When you ask why the church is so slow to approve heavy-handed population control measures such as confiscating privately owned property by government, one needs only to look at government’s own vast array of aggressive weaponry, domestic and worldwide to see that the hypocrisy is profound. Government simply intends to have a monopoly on violence, whether a particular population is armed or unarmed.

    What each one of us ought to be doing is making our own choices for life, not death, as God’s Holy Spirit teaches and conscience allows. We need to decide how we ourselves ought to respond to reduce levels of conflict rather than escalate them, and begin to act to model that to others through example, not coercion, which itself depends upon the threat of violence.

    Jesus didn’t accept the concept of political salvation for what really ails us. He refused the temptation in the desert to rule the kingdoms of this world in a dominating system of hierarchy, in which he himself would have to bow down. He refused popular acclaim to be a military messiah, to kill the Roman occupiers and rule through violence. He explained to the representative of the Empire that his Kingdom was not founded upon coercion as was theirs, and proved that even the coercive might of Roman law did not have the ability to do justice, as that exemplar of impotent ruling power washed his hands of the crucifixion. While we by proxy rejected His kingdom’s principles three times, He affirmed them even in extremity.

    We need to model Him, not the world’s easy ways to cage people with more and more laws and heavy punishments, rather than His way of changing hearts. That will mean we can’t be ashamed of being His in public.

  8. M. South says:

    I might add to this:

    “Our institutions have mixed motives, since inculcating a belief that violence is useful once provocation reaches a certain level is utilitarian for making sure that proletarian recruits to an empire army have their moral restraint reduced to where they will readily fire upon people they don’t know in other lands.”

    That this also makes sure that the general population is psychologically ready to politically support such military adventurism and every eventual method that becomes part of the arsenal of war, including torture.

    There’s a severe cost to our public morality, which coarsens, as what goes around comes around, here at home. There should be no surprise that American cities, like Ferguson, start to resemble foreign war and occupation zones, when we grow used to treating foreigners like that. There really is no difference between us and them, which is why there is an easy transition to treating conflict at home in the same violent manner.

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